The Mobile Brigade Corps (BRIMOB), the Special Operations of the Indonesian National Police, intimidating project-affected community who defend their right to land. Illustration based on an actual photo to protect the identity of local activists: A.S. (March 2022)

A large-scale tourism project in Indonesia’s Lombok Island has become a nightmare for the coastal Indigenous Sasak communities. Hundreds of families have been forced by the government and armed security forces to leave their homes for temporary resettlements unfit to support their livelihoods, while others who stand up for their rights to land, a life of traditions and rightful compensation, still face intimidation and reprisals three and a half years after the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) started financing the project.

On a quiet morning in September 2021, the Sasak fisherfolk and villagers of rural coastal Muluq went about their day just like any other. While the female fisherfolk collected and dried the harvested seaweed on the beach where they live, others gathered grass to feed the famous Lombok cattle in the communal cattle pens. The men who were still recovering from fishing the night before were playing a game of chess on the brugak, a Sasak communal gazebo, under the swaying coconut trees, as they often do.

AIIB-financed Mandalika affected Sasak fisherfolk and peasant whose village was raided by the military in October 2021. They have been excluded from a meeting with the AIIB on the bank’s June visit to the project area. Illustration based on an actual photo to protect the identity of activists: A.S. (June 2022)

Little would prepare them for what would happen next. Equipped with guns and rifles, military and state security forces descended on the village sending shockwaves through this quiet community. Intimidated by the disproportionate display of power, the villagers watch as an excavator begins the unannounced land clearing process, followed by the cutting down of the coconut trees that line the road.

Indonesia’s armed military that threatened the Mandalika project affected communities with guns during the land clearing process to build an AIIB financed road. Illustration based on an actual photo to protect the identity of communities who witnessed the event: A.S. (September 2021)

The newly constructed road, paved with financing from the AIIB, a multilateral development bank headquartered in Beijing, which passes by the Muluq village and ends at the beach where the fisherfolk communities live, is just the beginning of a new phase of land acquisition for the Mandalika project, according to construction workers.

The Mandalika affected communities continue to face the constant threat of construction and involuntary resettlement throughout summer 2022.
Photo: Just Finance International (2022)

The workers told confused villagers that the Muluq communities would soon be forced to leave their land and resettled in another hillier village on the other side of the road. Representatives of both AIIB and the Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) recently paid a hasty visit to the community, but failed not only to inform, but to even engage with the villagers about their future.

“We heard that our coastal community will be turned into a parking lot before the next international motorcycle race at Mandalika circuit later this year, but no one from the delegation of AIIB and ITDC tells us anything”, said one villager.’

Local Sasak communities use the coastal Mandalika area – soon to be paved into a parking lot – for economic activities, including the harvesting and drying of seaweed. Photo: Just Finance International (2022)

The Mandalika Urban Development and Tourism project is the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s first standalone project in Indonesia, marked category ‘A’ for its high environmental and social impacts, including involuntary resettlement and impacts on the indigenous Sasak communities.

AIIB approved the financing decision of the project in December 2018 amidst land conflicts, based only on the fact that the environmental and social due diligence assessments, including the resettlement plan prepared by its client and project implementer, the Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation, met AIIB’s own environmental and social safeguard standards.

The Muluq fisherfolk and families are devastated, and are trying to grasp with the loss of communal coconut trees, a vital source of income which can generate an annual income of over $1,400 USD. In trying to make sense of the violent land clearing that is unfolding in front of their eyes, the Muluq villagers are demanding an explanation from the security forces. However, the security forces responded by pointing loaded weapons at those who raise their voice, an intimidating act that immediately silences the villagers into submission. “What can you do when they point guns at you?’’, say the villagers.

The Muluq communities now live in fear, without any knowledge of what will happen next. They know all too well the plight of other Mandalika communities, including those still living in what remains of the Ebunut village, a stone’s throw from where the Mandalika international motorcycle race circuit is built on what used to be the ground of the village of Ebunut, home to hundreds of Sasak families.

Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, prepares to ride a motorbike at Mandalika International Circuit in Mandalika, built on the land that was once the Ebunut village. Photo: AP/TT (November 12, 2021)

Since 2018, those who resist unfair and non-transparent involuntary resettlement across the Mandalika area have been subject to repeated and repressive intimidation and reprisal tactics by AIIB’s client, the Indonesia Tourism and Development Corporation, and other components of the Indonesia government, according to accounts given by the communities, Indonesia’s human rights body, and the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.

More than 25 households of Ebunut who refused the unfair terms of involuntary resettlement try to carry on their lives in an atmosphere of fear, continuing to live beside the  Mandalika International Street Circuit.

Unlike the over 90 households who gave up their rights in the face of the imminent Mandalika project in October 2019, and moved into temporary shelters they had to build with their own hands, the 25 plus households in Ebunut choose to stay back to defend their homes.

Those who accepted unilaterally determined resettlement terms which they now call “false promises” are struggling and complain of how more villagers are becoming poverty stricken as a result of involuntary resettlement. Their new permanent homes, which are still under construction, are located on a hillside nestled between mountains, at the end of a long and winding dirt road, which according to the village head is “very problematic in it that the houses are crammed together and unfit for supporting our traditional coastal livelihoods” and that it doesn’t provide communal land large enough to raise cattle and grow crops for the communities.

“We do not want to end up poorer than we are, even though ITDC destroyed our communities”, said one villager who points how his elderly neighbors, tricked into living in temporary shelters, are still stranded 34 months after accepting a meager one-time handshake payment of $670.  This is at odds with AIIB’s approved Resettlement Action Plan which states that the permanent resettlement of these families would take place within a maximum of 12 months after their relocation. 

A common remark raised by the communities affected by the Mandalika project is how there has been a deliberate effort on part of the Mandalika project promoter and the AIIB to undermine transparency in both public consultations and land conflict resolution process. As a result, communities concede that they have not been consulted in a way that meets the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), a right recognized under the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples. FPIC allows the indigenous peoples to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories. 

“I think we have been excluded from any meaningful dialogue and conflict resolution with the task force and ITDC because we filed complaints with Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission and have spoken about our plight with the international media like Al Jazeera”, concluded villagers. 

United Nations Human Rights body condemns the Mandalika project. (March 2021)

“Our lodging of complaints on land conflicts with the corrupt ITDC project grievance redress mechanism and the land conflict resolution task force has been met with silence and foot-dragging, “said one community member. “We don’t expect any resolution forthcoming, especially not when the military and police have taken over the leadership of the task force which makes us feel intimidated and is clearly designed so it prevents us the people from asserting our rights”, he added. 

Indonesian soldiers walk near Mandalika International Circuit at the Superbike World Championship. Photo: AP/TT (November 18, 2021)

People affected by the Mandalika, and who spoke to Just Finance International, point to the unsettling increase in militarization of land conflicts. Affected Sasak communities speak in distress when recounting the years of intimidation by the combination of security forces including the military, the tactical special force, and the police. Even now, during quiet summer months, the SWAT team and police continue to patrol the sleepy agrarian communities that have stood up for their rights despite the oppressive atmosphere that accompanies the Mandalika involuntary land acquisition process. But it has not always been this quiet. 

In March 2022,in the lead-up to the MotoGP motorcycle race at the Mandalika International Circuit, the military and police put down a temporary camp within Ebunut village and reinforced checkpoints to monitor and restrict the free movement of community members in and out of their own village. They did not leave until one day after the MotoGP race was completed.

Women and school age children in Ebunut recount how they were made to wear a ‘MotoGP’ bracelet which would allow up to maximum two entries and exits per day to and from their own village when passing the makeshift checkpoint set up by the government-led security forces. Some parents decided to keep their children from going to school, out of the fear that children would lose their bracelets and not be allowed to return home.  

And yet, this is not an isolated incident. In November 2021, during the November World Superbike (SBK) race that took place at the Mandalika International Circuit, the military and police not only surrounded the Ebunut village for the duration of the event, but also camped at the homes of communities whose lands are still in unresolved land disputes. These disputes have seen the communities lodge complaints with both the ITDC and the land dispute conflict resolution task force – which are now led by the elements of the military and police. This show of intimidation has now become a common practice, according to affected communities and local journalists. During the event, SWAT teams and the military patrolled the Mandalika area in armored cars. 

Read the November 2021 report by Jakarta Globe on the life of communities in the center of the Mandalika Circuit.

A member of the Indonesian army takes part in a security drill during the Indonesian Grand Prix MotoGP race at the Mandalika International Circuit at Kuta Mandalika in Central Lombok. Photo: AFP/TT (March 19, 2022)

An international sports news outlet covering the March 2022 MotoGP event referenced the Ebunut village as a source of ‘sour taste’ seeing a race on what is alleged “stolen land”

The Mandalika project area has seen an aggravated escalation of land conflicts, which according to Lombok-based lawyers and landowners, is fueled by ITDC’s arbitrary land seizures since the AIIB began financing the project in December 2018.  Communities affected by the Mandalika project development have reported continuous incidents during which the security forces, including the military and police, intimidated them as part of the land acquisition process on over 13 occasions between 2018 and 2022.

Moto GP racetrack seen from the remain of the Ebunut village, the epicenter of the AIIB Mandalika project. Photo: Just Finance International (2022)

According to AIIB and its client, the ITDC, an Indonesian state-owned enterprise (SOE), over 92.7 percent of land in the Mandalika Special Economic Zone was reportedly “clean and clear” of land title or disputes. To the contrary, in the Mandalika region there is a long history dating back to the 1990s and decades earlier of violent land grabbing by government, government-led business enterprises (predecessors of the ITDC), forced evictions and involuntary displacement of local populations, physical and verbal violence, and intimidations against them to coerce them into vacating their land.  

Indonesia’s law on land acquisition, according to expert analysis by the ADB and the UN, empowers the State to acquire private land for infrastructure development in the public interest and sets out processes for land acquisition. While the law provides for clearer processes for land acquisition than the previous legal framework, it is widely recognized that its provisions about compensation and resettlement fall short of international human rights standards and obligations.

In the 2021 responses to human rights allegations in connection with the AIIB financed Mandalika project raised by the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, the Government of Indonesia and AIIB maintains the legality of land acquisition is based on Indonesia’s Law No. 2 of 2012 and not AIIB’s safeguards for re-verifying the land acquisition and resettlement compensation disputes. However, the AIIB has failed to account for the land acquisition practice of its client – and the borrowing government – and how excessive forces have been deployed in the project implementation by its client. 

Since 2018, Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission ha intervened in the land conflict cases surrounding the Mandalika project, following the violent and repressive land grabbing that has taken place between 2018 and 2021.

According to the law, the government of Indonesia is not required to heed the Commission’s views or to explore alternative options to land acquisition. As a consequence, unregistered right-holders or those whose land titles or user rights whose rights are not recognized who are occupying land according to customary law may be denied compensation. Reports suggest that the same law often allowed the State to arbitrarily seize land without meaningful consultations and without paying adequate and fair compensation to the rights-holders. 

The AIIB approved the project by rubber-stamping the key social documentation including the resettlement action plan, even though its client clearly states how the Indonesia law rather than AIIB’s international standards apply. Such practice raises serious questions about AIIB’s lack of due diligence. 

This also demonstrates the discrepancy between the premises on which the AIIB agreed to finance the project, which is based on its client meeting AIIB safeguards, and what that client delivers in practice. Against this backdrop, the rubber-stamping of the Resettlement Action Plan prepared by ITDC and the application of Law No. 2 of 2012 as a means of acquiring required land for the project, appears to point to a serious lack of due diligence on the part of AIIB. 

Since 2019, NGOs working to support the rights restoration of the Mandalika-affected Sasak communities have asked the AIIB to disclose the land audit which it claimed to have conducted as the foundation for its greenlighting of the project, the assessment of its client, ITDC’s, implementation of AIIB environmental and social safeguards, as well as the monitoring results and management plans on the use of security personnel, as per AIIB Environmental and Social Framework requirements. 

AIIB’s response, however, has been to merely state that the project meets AIIB’s standards, without insofar as to disclose its own land audit and detailed social impact monitoring reports, which are a common practice by other international financial institutions for high risk – category A – projects.

The AIIB, in the view of civil society organizations who have assisted the affected Sasak communities in Mandalika since the bank began implementation of the project, has denigrated the concerns raised by project affected communities, independent experts and civil society organizations, by refusing to address the human rights violations against the backdrop of long standing conflicts in Mandalika.

“It would be critical for the AIIB to immediately suspend its financing of the Mandalika project, which commenced without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which as the UN communication states, and how this runs counter to the requirement under international human rights law that the prior and informed consent should be sought under conditions free of coercion, intimidation or manipulation’”, said Mohammad al Amien, coordinator of the NGO coalition.

“Indigenous peoples have already been forced from their lands and the largely agrarian community are faced with the continued loss of their livelihoods”, said al Amien. “AIIB must also immediately require its clients, the ITDC and the government of Indonesia to disband the land acquisition task force composed largely of the military and police forces in Mandalika which employs tactics of intimidation and movement restriction on the affected people”.

Coastal communities affected by the Mandalika project and who have been denied access to information and decision making, fear that the worst is yet to come. “They destroy our culture and communities, but we have sticks to defend our land and livelihood if they (i.e. the military and police) come armed again, ‘’ say the fisherfolk, as they gaze into the distance towards the once fertile land near the beach now converted into a parking lot, where the AIIB road leads to nowhere. 

The Mandalika Urban Development and Tourism project is the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s first standalone project in Indonesia, marked category ‘A’ for its environmental and social impacts, including involuntary resettlement and impacts on the indigenous Sasak communities.

The AIIB approved the financing decision of the project in December 2018 on account that the environmental and social due diligence assessments including the resettlement action plan prepared by its client and project implementer, the Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), met AIIB’s own environmental and social safeguard standards. However, the reality from our continued on-the-ground monitoring and testimonies by project-affected communities paints a different picture.